Summary of Town Hearing #2 on Broadband Internet

As we did with the first town hearing, we wanted to provide an informal, unofficial summary of the discussion from the second town hearing this past week. These notes are provided below.

DRAFT Minutes – Broadband Hearing #2  10AM 4/24/2013  Town Hall Annex

Questions/Comments  from attending residents:

Comment: Fiber is brittle, very expensive to repair.

The BBC responded that while the glass used in the fiber strands is indeed brittle, the fiber cable in the current plan is actually very strong, due to the outside cladding used to protect the cable.  In many reported cases the fiber cable has withstood impacts that have broken accompanying electric cables.   The BBC did acknowledge that fiber is not 100% unbreakable, and that special equipment is required to repair it when it does break.

Comment:  Regarding real estate prices, if you look at Holden/Sterling and other towns our prices are the lowest.  Resident remarked that people would avoid coming to town unless there is high speed internet access.

Comment: Unless you live on edge of town and can pick up high speed internet from a neighboring service, you are out of luck.  If you have DSL on edge of town, it is very slow.  Resident has a consulting company, and has unreliable service.  The resident commented on having to drive to Panera Bread to submit bids for his company.

Comment:  A resident in the Real Estate business in town commented that they were informed when they started in the business 2.5 years ago that internet is the #1 issue preventing home sales. The Resident gave 3 examples of sales that fell through due to internet, including a couple backed out of a deal because they would be unable to stream movies, another sale that fell through because the buyer needed to telecommute, and another family with school-aged children who needed reliable internet for school purposes.

Question:  Is Satellite service, such as Hughes DirecWay, a possible alternative to the plan?  Resident noted the advertised speeds are much higher than most people’s current service.

Several residents responded to the question, noting that satellite reception can be a problem and is subject to outages due to snow on the dish.  The BBC also added that satellite plans have data caps that preclude even moderate video streaming, and also satellite has latency/delay issues for total round-trip time which make it unsuitable for certain applications, like telecommuting or VOIP/telephone use.

Comment:  Resident commented that they do not want to pay for a service they do not intend to use, and that the current plan of paying for the internet infrastructure from the tax base rather than via a subscriber-paid model is unfair.

Discussion/debate on the suggestion occurred here and at other points during the hearing.   A related discussion/debate occurred on whether or not internet connectivity constitutes essential infrastructure for a town, like electric or roads.  The BBC and several residents felt it was in essence a utility like electric service, water, or sewer.

Comment:  Resident  commented that the town has been down this path (of initiating a public project) twice,  with the windmills and the wireless internet service.  Sometimes it does not work, technology changes so fast.

The BBC responded that the current proposed project is being initiated directly by the town versus the municipal light department, and as such is following an open process for discussion, bidding, and voting.  A resident commented that comparison of PMLD versus the town may be hair-splitting in some people’s eyes, but the comparison of the fiber project to the windmill project is inaccurate; fiber is a proven, gold standard in use for decades, (versus windmill and wireless systems which are new/changing/less proven).   Another resident commented that the Internet is an investment for the town, and will provide additional value through new services.  They cited Westfield as an example, a town that installed a fiber network over 20 years ago which has subsequently been paid off, and is still providing positive value to the town.

Comment:  A resident commented that the costs for fiber equipment are more than copper, and cited Old Sturbridge Village as example of a business/location that switched from fiber back to copper because the equipment is cheaper.

The BBC responded that equipment costs for fiber are dropping as its usage grows.  By comparison, copper-based equipment is becoming scarcer as the technology fades; the BBC and residents cited examples of Verizon de-certifying DSL lines when they have problems rather than repair them as part of their transition plan away from copper.  BBC chair Steve Cullen offered to give some more detailed information on copper versus fiber equipment costs to any interested residents after the hearing.

Question:  Will there be enough time from the May vote for design service funds to September vote to complete the design work, so that residents would have more accurate information on the actual cost of the system?

The BBC responded that the network design would not take a very long time and fully expected the information would be available in advance of the September special town meeting.

Question: Why did the BBC opt to go to the town for funding, rather than form a private company and solicit investment funds privately?

A resident remarked that an investment firm or outside company would not find it attractive because they cannot make a short-term profit on it; companies would want to get a return on investment in say seven years.  The town by comparison would borrow over a much longer period of time, and unlike outside investors, investors who are residents would see an immediate return on their investment in the form of improved service and lower service costs.   Another resident remarked that the size of the investment Princeton represented was too small to be attractive to larger companies, and made the analogy that Price Chopper would never buy Mountainside Café, because the two are vastly different in terms of scale.

Question: What will it take for the various required votes to pass?

The BBC responded that the design warrant article needed a simple majority to pass, but the other warrant article to form a new Telecom entity would require a 2/3 vote, as would subsequent articles such as the votes for funding and debt exclusion in September.

Question:  Under the proposed plan, would residents be required to buy the internet/phone bundle, or could they be separated (i.e., could you buy just phone service or just internet?)

The BBC responded that the exact plan details would not be finalized until an ISP is selected, but it is the intention of the town for these to be purchased separately if desired.

Question: Except for savvy users, the jump to VOIP  (Voice Over IP) telephone service is  a fuzzy one.   Maybe BBC could provide info on how to make transition so people can realize savings, and understand that they will pay more vs. less unless they move both phone and internet.

The BBC commented that VOIP is actually already in use as all telephone and cell traffic goes over fiber once it leaves the town.  The BBC acknowledged that residents will need to be informed on the details of how VOIP works, for instance the fact that they will not have to change any equipment inside their house.    The BBC also noted that the Library, Town Hall, and Public Service buildings will be connected to fiber this summer and will act as a pilot program / demonstration vehicle for telephone service via VOIP.

Question:  Is Skype the same as VOIP?

The BBC responded that Skype is a form of VOIP, but it is not a dedicated VOIP service so no quality controls are used for the signal.  Dedicated VOIP such as the system proposed for the town would have much better / reliable quality.

Question: as a taxpayer, will I be penalized for using Ayacht?  What will happen to antenna system?

The BBC responded that the previous PLMD wireless system has already been sold to Ayacht, and there would be no associated tax penalty or burden to the town regarding the system.  Details on the future operation and direction for the wireless system would be decided by Ayacht.

Question: Will residents be able to carry existing phone numbers over to the new system?

The BBC responded that yes, you would be able to carry your number over.

Question: Do we rent poles from PMLD?  Will there be costs associated with pole usage?

The BBC responded that the Broadband Committee has come to an agreement with PMLD such that there would be no cost in renting poles.

Question: Will we be paying a manager as part of the new Telecom entity?

The BBC responded that this was still to be decided, but if a dedicated/paid manager is needed, it would be a part-time position, and that it might be more important to have someone at the project start to work out issues.  The BBC also commented that other towns don’t have dedicated employees for this.  

Question: How many years for the bond?

The BBC responded that the plan is to take out a 20 year bond, currently at a  3-3.5% rate.

Comment:  A resident remarked that the network is like the library, its purpose being to disseminate information.   They also remarked that the average American uses the internet 2.5 hours a day, and said this compares favorably to the value of a library, also commenting that it is a utility not a frivolous expense.

Comment:  A resident remarked that new buyers of house sold did not get DSL even though previous residents had it.  DSL lines are given out to the top of the list, new buyers at the end.

The BBC added that DSL lines slowly being de-qualified, as they age they are removed rather than replaced as a part of Verizon’s plan to phase out DSL.

Question:  Will we have to replace poles that are too short, at the taxpayer cost?

The BBC responded that PMLD will replace a small number of poles that are short, but these need replacing anyway and the cost is unrelated to the project.  A few poles will have to replace but small numbers.   

Question: How many houses in town?

The BBC answered that the Tax Assessor says 1240,  but the initial plot survey indicated 1379 potential properties in town.

Comment:  Resident observed that Princeton doesn’t have any traffic lights, gas stations, and only has a tiny market.  The resident had head there was a potential of about 3,000 lots left in town.   They felt that the addition of high-speed internet would increase demand for housing, and wondered if it might make the town more crowded and suburban in twenty years.

A resident responded that if you look at all towns, population grows everywhere. They noted that there has been a 41 percent increase in people who work from home since 1999, adding that now 75% of Amercians use the internet regularly”. They remarked that we have to “get on that train”, and that “we have been left behind; we love flavor of town but I see more bad potential if we don’t do this versus bad if we do it.”  

Another resident remarked that high-speed internet may simply have the effect of preventing erosion in property values, rather than spur uncontrolled growth in the town.

Broadband Committee Members Attending:

  • Stan Moss
  • John Kowaleski.
  • Bill Dino
  • Ned Utzig
  • Steve Cullen
  • Petr Spacek

Attending Residents: 16

The Broadband Committee (herein referred to as the BBC) reconvened the Public Hearing at 10:01 on April 24.  Meeting adjourned at 11:18AM.

John Kowaleski presented updated slides on the proposed plan.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: May 14 Town Meeting: “Just the facts, ma’am” | Princeton Broadband

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